Euro 2024: battles on and off the pitch reflect a continent struggling with its own identity

After more than four weeks and 51 football matches, Euro 2024 draws to a close with its total audience again likely to have exceeded 5 billion live viewers. Europe’s premier international football tournament has certainly retained its global appeal, but its overall report card presents a rather more mixed picture for the continent – of fading glories and harsh realities.

The most recognisable symbol of waning strength has been Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. For years, he has been considered one of the sport’s greatest talents, but at 39 his presence on the pitch is visibly less potent.

Ronaldo’s tears of frustration after missing a penalty against Slovenia were a reminder of what once was but can no longer be – rather like Europe itself, which is struggling to retain its power, influence and relevance.

But while Ronaldo cried (Portugal were ultimately knocked out by France in the quarter-finals), Italy wept. For, if another reflection of European nations losing their way was needed, the chaotic Azzurri provided it. Once the kings of elegance and style, Italy (knocked out by unfancied Switzerland at the last-16 stage) looked bereft of ideas, playing a brand of football that was stilted and lacked dynamism – akin to Europe’s approach to the current stormy economic waters.

And then there was France (beaten by Spain in the semi-final). Just days before the tournament began, French president Emmanuel Macron called a snap parliamentary election after European polls went the way of the far right.

The country’s captain, Kylian Mbappé (of Cameroonian and Algerian descent), then implored young French voters to resist the rise of far-right extremism. It was a sentiment echoed by Ibrahima Konaté, Aurélien Tchouaméni and many other players in the ethnically diverse French squad.

Yet after the first round of voting, in which the National Rally party came out ahead, its president Jordan Bardella announced that he would strip away the automatic right to citizenship of children born in France to non-French parents. In other words, people like Mbappé, Konaté and Tchouaméni.

Meanwhile, England’s largely dour, directionless football matched Britain’s post-Brexit woes. Ramped-up on an anglicised vision of hope, Gareth Southgate’s side’s painful progress through the group stages ran in parallel to Rishi Sunak’s stumbling general election campaign. Both were difficult to watch – but at least England made it to the final.

Elsewhere, the Hungarian national team (eliminated at the group stage) turned up in Germany fuelled by more than €3 billion (£2.5 billion) of government investment. Prime minister Viktor Orbán, another right-wing populist, is not just a football fan but someone who isn’t afraid to deploy the game for political purposes.

The host country Germany (beaten by Spain in an exciting quarter-final) fared better on the pitch than many had expected. But while traditional stereotypes emphasise the nation’s efficiency, the Euros have exposed that its railways are in a state of disarray, confronted by funding issues and management difficulties. Thousands of fans were left stranded on station platforms after matches in Germany’s old industrial heartland, exemplifying the infrastructural challenges that many European countries now face.

All of this was set against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Its national team finished last in its group, but perhaps more surprising was how little the conflict was mentioned. After Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, football fans and players loudly expressed their support for Ukraine. But during this tournament, signs of such solidarity were scarce.

Cohesion in the streets

On the plus side, the absence of widespread hooliganism during the event was encouraging. Some fans, like those from the Netherlands (beaten semi-finalists), stood out for the party atmosphere they brought, while the soft power of bagpipe bands and the tartan army from Scotland (group stage) charmed many.

But political divisions were never far away. While some fans sang anti-Vladimir Putin songs, Serbian supporters arrived in Germany under suspicion that some were planning violence in support of the Russian president.

Supporters of Serbia (eliminated at the group stage) were goaded inside the stadiums by rival fans from Croatia and Albania (both also group-stage departures). And a player from Turkey (quarter-finalists) celebrated scoring a goal using an ultra-nationalist hand gesture.

Corporate concerns

Evidence of a troubled Europe, uncomfortable with itself and unsure of its identity, was seen on the corporate side of the tournament too. Most of Euro 2024’s sponsors were not European, with the biggest group coming from China (Hisense, Vivo, BYD, Ali Express and Ali Pay).

Yet even as the Euros kicked-off, the EU announced plans to impose trade sanctions on the Chinese electric vehicle company BYD – an unfortunate juxtaposition given the car giant’s sponsorship deal with tournament organisers Uefa.

There was also a marked contrast to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where Germany’s national team protested against the Gulf nation over human rights issues. For this tournament, Qatar Airways landed on the country’s doorstep as a major sponsor. But there were no protests – just the sense that European companies and brands have neither the money nor the appetite to take on their Asian rivals.

Despite the difficulties, global interest in the tournament shows there is still much to be celebrated in Europe. Euro 2024 had some great football, enthusiastic fans, and sporting moments to savour. But it could not distract from the deeper malaise we are witnessing across the continent. Läs mer…

Rockstar by K-pop artist Lisa is an anthem that defies international stereotypes of ‘Thainess’

Thai singer, dancer and rapper Lisa, a member of South Korean girl group Blackpink, released her latest solo single, Rockstar on June 28. Within 30 minutes, the video had over a million views on YouTube.

A Thai native who is one of very few non-ethnically Korean performers to succeed in the K-pop industry, Lisa’s success has been followed closely in Thailand. Rockstar caused a sensation in Bangkok. Mobile data usage increased sharply across the city after the single’s release, and Lisa-themed merchandise flooded both street markets and luxury shopping malls.

Yet there is a sense that eager Thai consumers and (even more) eager Thai authorities were unprepared for, and unsure how to react to, the success of this track. Filmed in Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown), the music video’s Bladerunner-esque aesthetic has caused tourists and locals alike to flock to the filming location. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration had to install barriers and redirect traffic to ensure crowd safety.

The music video for Rockstar by Lisa.

Anyone and anything connected to Lisa – be it her favourite meatballs or her used toilet seats – has become fair game for commercialisation through association. The mish-mash of responses from Thais of various social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, evident in the many reaction videos posted online, adds to the confusion – as does the Korean struggle to define the song as K-pop or T-pop (Thai pop music).

Over the past decade, Lisa’s rise has been praised by Thai officials and co-opted as part of official Thai soft power by the Thai ministry of culture. Both the previous regime and current coalition government dubbed her a “cultural ambassador”. She was praised her for spreading Thai soft power by using emblems of culture such as headdresses from traditional Thai dancers in her previous video, Lalisa (2022).

Lisa’s “Thainess” has became a large part of her distinctive star image and appeal within the K-pop industry. Yet Rockstar is significant as her first video based solely in Thailand. It’s also the first from her newly created company and personal platform, LLOUD.

The song’s huge success comes at a moment when the official domestic definitions of “Thailand” and “Thainess” are in flux. After two decades of rapid export-orientated economic growth, Thailand has transitioned to an upper-middle-income economy with a significant reduction in poverty since 2011. Yet when this “turbo-capitalism” fully accelerated, domestic national discourse became unclear – an unusual situation in a country long used to authoritarian control.

Traditional Thai dancers and Thai headdresses feature in the music video for Lalisa by Lisa.

Definitions of Thailand and Thainess have been tightly controlled since the colonial era of the late-19th and early-20th century, when Thai elites sought to retain control over the region in the face of western powers. Clearly defining and outlining these official notions of Thai culture led to the national identity becoming a conformist exercise.

While the Thai political system remains highly problematic, the 2023 coalition government has offered a sense of stability and social progression. This is in contrast to ten years ago, when several high-profile international performers (including Frankie Valli, Taylor Swift and Eric Clapton) cancelled Bangkok concerts due to political unrest. Just two years ago, researchers still saw the country’s political values as an “impediment” to the development of soft power. After Rockstar’s impact, however, this seems a significant overstatement.

A new vision of ‘Thainess’

Lisa’s single presents a very different image of Thailand to that previously recognised internationally. Moving away from global orientalist stereotypes of “sun, sea and sex”, Thailand’s new international image aims to showcase the rapid development and global prominence of the Thai creative industries.

The branding and launch of Bangkok as a media capital and centre of entrepreneurship is evident in the many financial incentives being offered by the state to international media companies including Netflix. Wider social changes, such as the decriminalisation of cannabis and legalisation of same-sex marriage, are also indicative of a nation undergoing rapid social change.

However, there remains a lack of a clear narrative and national discourse, in comparison with those projected by nearby nation states such as Singapore. The perception of Thailand as a “work in progress” remains, despite its significant wealth and rapid development.

Similarly, while Thai soft power continues to be pushed heavily by the new coalition government, appearing in official documents and promotional websites, there is little definition as to what “power” this refers to.

Rockstar has garnered international attention

Rockstar’s lyrics and Bangkok-based video seem to articulate the changes and confusion inherent in defining Thainess after such rapid economic growth and social change. Whereas Lisa’s previous videos foregrounded traditional symbols of Thailand, on her home turf in Rockstar she chose a neon-grunge aesthetic of nighttime cyberpunk, complete with tattooed bikers. It’s a far cry from the internationally-recognised Thai iconography of silks and lotus flowers.

In Rockstar, Lisa references both Bangkok and her international fame: “Been MIA, BKK so pretty
/ Every city that I go is my city”.

This local representation, embedded in a pan-Asian noir aesthetic, is far removed from the “amazing Thailand” touted by the nation’s tourist board. It is more in keeping with the country’s disaffected (and underground) urban youth culture, a movement vilified and jailed for anti-government protests throughout the past decade.

Eight years ago, I published arguably the first paper to address the reaction to and impact of Korean pop culture in Thailand. One key finding was how consumers in areas of Thailand that were (at the time) undergoing rapid development were keen to invest themselves in the Asian-centric modernity represented in Korean pop culture.

The reaction to Lisa’s video from both the Thai state and public suggests consumers are now keen to seek such “modernity” closer to home. Yet the definition of what constitutes this Thai-style modernity is still very unclear.

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The best athletes believe that stress is a good thing – and they embrace ‘winning ugly’

The summer of sport is well underway. Already we have seen penalty shootout drama at the Euros, defending champion Marketa Vondrousova exiting Wimbledon at the first hurdle and preparations getting underway for the Paris Olympic Games.

Regardless of the sport, at elite level, the stakes are high and the athletes are required to perform under considerable pressure. The sources of pressure may be internal, such as the expectations they place on themselves. They may emanate from within their camp, for example not wanting to let their coach or teammates down. Or they may come from the crowds watching both in the stadium and on TV.

In the case of the Olympics, athletes will have spent the last four years training to produce their best performance on one given day – or even in a ten second race. Physically, tactically and technically, there is little to separate them, but as former England cricketer Stuart Broad has said, psychology plays a huge part in performance. He called the sport “90% mental”.

So how might athletes use psychology to aid their performance when the heat is on? As a performance psychologist, I believe mindset should be at the heart of their psychological approach. During a recent address to graduates at Dartmouth College eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer shared that despite winning 80% of the matches played during his career, he only won 54% of the points in those matches.

He commented: “Negative energy is wasted energy. You want to become a master at overcoming hard moments. That to me is the sign of a champion.”

The term “mindset” was pioneered by the psychologist Professor Carol Dweck. A mindset is like a lens for how we view something. Often mindset is spoken of in general terms, but it is possibly to have a mindset about specific domains, such as stress.

Consciously or subconsciously, everyone has a mindset about stress and in sport, athletes’ beliefs about hard or challenging moments matter. They can choose to believe that stress can be enhancing for their performance, health and growth, or they can consider stress to be debilitating.

My research shows that an athlete’s “stress mindset” plays an important role in helping to manage their mental wellbeing amid the high demands of competitive sport.

Athletes who see stress as beneficial are likely to interpret moments like a knockout match in the European Championships as a challenge rather than as a threat. They are also more likely to experience better mental health. Taken together, this may contribute towards allowing them to thrive in demanding circumstances.

Portugal’s goalkeeper Diogo Costa saves the ball during Euros penalties between Portugal and Slovenia.
Associated Press/Alamy Stock Photo

Alongside my Staffordshire University colleagues, I host the podcast Performing Under Pressure. To find out more about how athletes view stressful situations, we have quizzed a range of international athletes about how they deal with the demands of performing well against the backdrop of high expectations – and we often hear a similar message.

Former England youth footballers Ellie Wilson and Ella Tagliavini both used the phrase “pressure is a privilege” on the show. In our view, this mindset towards challenging situations has been one of the ingredients in their careers as elite athletes. Now at Wolves Women and Fulham Women respectively, both players exhibit a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset when required to perform under pressure. This set of beliefs can start a domino effect, with positive consequences for wellbeing and performance.

When an athlete thinks in this way, they will probably choose to face high stress situations rather than avoid them, take responsibility for situations on the pitch and back themselves to perform well. They might not enjoy stressful situations – Emma Raducanu described a recent win at Wimbledon as “ugly” and as a “fight” – but they welcome stress because they know that it can bring the best out of them when it matters.

In the case of “winning ugly”, this implies a win that is built on the foundations of grit and determination, rather than being a free flowing poetic performance. Stress mindset can play an important role here. When athletes know that in order to win, they will have to fight hard, they will utilise stress and its associated responses to fully engage in the battle.

The good news is that although beliefs about stress may be deeply held, my research shows that it is possible to alter the way in which athletes think about stress. At Staffordshire, we developed the cognitive behavioural intervention Mindset: Performing Under Pressure that seeks to enhance wellbeing and performance.

When compared to a control group, results demonstrated that stress mindset significantly improved because of the intervention, and this was accompanied by reductions in negative emotions. We helped the athletes to recognise that many stress responses are helpful for performance, such as the release of adrenaline, and that character may be built from coping with previous stressful situations.

Admittedly, when stress is chronic, this is often unhelpful for wellbeing and performance, and it was important for us to provide this message for the athletes to buy into our approach. However, by helping athletes to think about stress in a balanced and flexible way, they will likely experience better performance and wellbeing. As the Olympians put their finishing touches to their preparation, the research is clear – mindset matters, and this includes their mindset towards stress. Läs mer…

Did plague really decimate Neolithic farmers 5,200 years ago, as a new study suggests?

Around 5,200 years ago, plague was not just present but common in six generations of one Swedish family, according to a new study. The researchers analysed both the ancient DNA of these people’s skeletal remains and the pathogens that left traces in them.

Three different strains of plague were present, of which the latest was possibly significantly more virulent than the earlier two. However, none had the gene that enabled the flea-based transmission behind the spread of the bubonic plague, the Black Death disease that resulted in the loss of half the population in some parts of medieval Europe between 1347 and 1351.

The authors of the new study analysed ancient DNA from 108 Scandinavian Neolithic people found in eight “megalithic” large stone tombs in Sweden and one stone cist (a coffin-like box in the ground) in Denmark. The plague bacterium Yersinia pestis was found in about 17% of those whose DNA was sequenced, but this probably underestimates its frequency.

The three distinct waves of plague spread through the population over a period of around 120 years. The first two waves were small and contained, but the third was more widespread.

Population crashes

The researchers suggest the wide prevalence of plague around 5,200 years ago could have contributed to the striking declines seen in the Neolithic population in Europe. These declines, of the order of those seen during the Black Death, have been revealed by archaeological research in southern Scandinavia and many other parts of Europe over the last 15 years.

We know this in part because the number of radiocarbon-dated archaeological sites drops very considerably in this period. Analysis of fossil pollen from plants and trees preserved in bogs and lakes also suggests areas that had previously been cleared for farming saw the regrowth of forests, so these two lines of evidence support one another.

But while the population declines are not in doubt, the idea that plague was responsible is much more open to question. To understand why, we need to go a bit further back.

Farming was brought to southern Scandinavia about 6,000 years ago by immigrant descendants of people originally from present-day Turkey. These farmers had intermixed to varying degrees with the local hunter-gatherers – the people already present in Europe – as they dispersed across the continent over the preceding 2,500 years.

Neolithic passage grave at Falbygden, southern Sweden.
Frederik Seersholm, Author provided

The population of farmers in southern Scandinavia expanded very rapidly, reaching a peak around 5,600 years ago, 400 years after their arrival. At this point, it started to decrease, dropping by perhaps as much as 60-70% over the following 300 years.

The decline was not a sudden event like the Black Death, but a gradual process. In fact, by the time of the occurrences of plague revealed by the new research, the population level had already reached its floor. But the population continued to remain low, so plague might have been instrumental in this.

Britain makes an interesting comparison. Here too, farming was introduced by immigrants around 6,000 years ago, and we see exactly the same pattern: the population rises to a peak 400 years later, then gradually declines until it reaches a low point 500-600 years later.

After the first couple of hundred years of farming immigration, there is very little evidence of continental connections that could have introduced plague until the arrival of new immigrants from the east after 4,500 years ago.

These immigrants carried a type of genetic ancestry, known as Eurasian steppe ancestry, that had first appeared in the western half of Europe around 5,000 years ago. It seems significant that, so far, the earliest evidence of plague in Britain is after this, from two Bronze Age sites dating to around 4,000 years ago.

It’s also worth noting that farming was very late arriving at the northwest extremities of Europe. Immigrant farmers had arrived in southeast and central Europe 8,500 and 7,500 years ago respectively. Here too, wherever people have looked, they have found similar boom-bust population patterns.

In other words, there seems to be some general process going on here that we still don’t really understand. Possible explanations include outbreaks of violence as the population peaks, and climate cooling events affecting crop yields. For the moment, disease outbreaks look a less likely explanation. Läs mer…

Introducing Vitamin Sea – a new series exploring the link between our connection with the ocean and marine conservation

Our health is intrinsically linked with that of the ocean. Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from tiny plankton in the sea, and our actions on land, however far from the coast we live, influence our waters in so many ways – from plastic litter and sewage pollution, to the fish we eat.

For that reason, Vitamin Sea – a new series of articles from The Conversation – is an exciting collaboration between our environment desk (editor Anna Turns) and our health desk (commissioning editor Katie Edwards).

Anna Turns, Senior Environment Editor

Seven years ago, my daughter and I campaigned for businesses in our home town on the south coast of Devon to stop using single-use plastics.

For two years, we organised beach cleans and school assemblies, persuaded 60 restaurants, hotels and shops to switch to reusables, took part in live TV interviews and led a two-day, 22-mile-long paddleboard expedition to collect litter along every creek of Salcombe estuary.

I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have bothered going to such extreme lengths had we not already got a strong sense of connection with this beautiful tidal estuary and a fierce need to protect it from litter and pollution. But having grown up in landlocked Bedfordshire, I’m curious about where that stems from.

The science of blue health – the concept that being near, on or in water is good for our physical and mental health – is relatively well-established. Water encompasses everything from ornamental water fountains in city centres to rivers, lakes, lochs and streams, and all flow to the ocean eventually.

Now, this Vitamin Sea series delves into new research that shows our interactions with the sea can influence how marine habitats can be conserved – and that our relationship with the sea is reciprocal, no matter where we live.

Katie Edwards, Commissioning Editor, Health

I grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, a northern post-industrial town with high levels of poverty and deprivation. Seaside visits to the beaches of Skegness, Scarborough and Blackpool were annual holiday events – the sea and its creatures seemed faraway from everyday life.

So what does blue health mean for those who live inland? How can people living in urban environments, many with pressing social issues in their own communities, contribute to marine health? How do those of us living miles from the coast develop a relationship with the sea and experience its benefits?

From the sunscreen we slap on in mid-summer to the wetsuits we wear while swimming, the products we put down our drains and the food we eat, our experts explain how our choices and actions can be good or harmful for the marine environment.

Researchers explain the social science behind the healing power of surf therapy and how they are measuring the benefits of blue health. And scientists shed light on why taking part in a beach clean is actually restorative for your mental health.

Let’s dive in.

Swimming, sailing, even just building a sandcastle – the ocean benefits our physical and mental wellbeing. Curious about how a strong coastal connection helps drive marine conservation, scientists are diving in to investigate the power of blue health.

This article is part of a series, Vitamin Sea, exploring how the ocean can be enhanced by our interaction with it. Läs mer…

Introducing Vitamin Sea – a new series exploring how our connection with the ocean shapes marine conservation

Our health is intrinsically linked with that of the ocean. Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from tiny plankton in the sea, and our actions on land, however far from the coast we live, influence our waters in so many ways – from plastic litter and sewage pollution, to the fish we eat.

For that reason we’ve launched Vitamin Sea, an exciting collaboration between The Conversation’s environment and health desks.

Anna Turns, Senior Environment Editor

Seven years ago, my daughter and I campaigned for businesses in our home town on the south coast of Devon to stop using single-use plastics.

For two years, we organised beach cleans and school assemblies, persuaded 60 restaurants, hotels and shops to switch to reusables, took part in live TV interviews and led a two-day, 22-mile-long paddleboard expedition to collect litter along every creek of Salcombe estuary.

I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have bothered going to such extreme lengths had we not already got a strong sense of connection with this beautiful tidal estuary and a fierce need to protect it from litter and pollution. But having grown up in landlocked Bedfordshire, I’m curious about where that stems from.

The science of blue health – the concept that being near, on or in water is good for our physical and mental health – is relatively well-established. Water encompasses everything from ornamental water fountains in city centres to rivers, lakes, lochs and streams, and all flow to the ocean eventually.

Now, this Vitamin Sea series delves into new research that shows our interactions with the sea can influence how marine habitats can be conserved – and that our relationship with the sea is reciprocal, no matter where we live.

Katie Edwards, Commissioning Editor, Health

I grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, a northern post-industrial town with high levels of poverty and deprivation. Seaside visits to the beaches of Skegness, Scarborough and Blackpool were annual holiday events – the sea and its creatures seemed faraway from everyday life.

So what does blue health mean for those who live inland? How can people living in urban environments, many with pressing social issues in their own communities, contribute to marine health? How do those of us living miles from the coast develop a relationship with the sea and experience its benefits?

From the sunscreen we slap on in mid-summer to the wetsuits we wear while swimming, the products we put down our drains and the food we eat, our experts explain how our choices and actions can be good or harmful for the marine environment.

Researchers explain the social science behind the healing power of surf therapy and how they are measuring the benefits of blue health. And scientists shed light on why taking part in a beach clean is actually restorative for your mental health.

Let’s dive in.

Swimming, sailing, even just building a sandcastle – the ocean benefits our physical and mental wellbeing. Curious about how a strong coastal connection helps drive marine conservation, scientists are diving in to investigate the power of blue health.

This article is part of a series, Vitamin Sea, exploring how the ocean can be enhanced by our interaction with it. Läs mer…

Four ways to be a more successful leader

Who do you think of when asked to name a leader today who is doing an outstanding job? You’re not alone if you’re struggling to find an answer – particularly if you are trying to think of leaders with major voices who are in positions of significant responsibility.

A survey of HR directors found that those from nearly three quarters of the corporations involved said their organisations do not have the leadership they need for the challenges of today. Nor do they have the depth of talent needed for tomorrow. Scandals, political and corporate, abound.

Yet the function of management has not changed and instability is not new; so why is there this crisis of leadership? As I argue in my book, Antidote to the Crisis of Leadership, it is the result of a mismatch between the reality of leadership today and a stubborn reliance on traditional practices.

Four mindset shifts are required.

1. Be adaptive

Businesses and governments operate within complex systems and always have done. However, these days more parts of the system are shifting simultaneously and at faster rates.

Leaders have to make more decisions, and make them more quickly. When there were fewer factors at play and the rate of change was slower, leaders had time to formulate forecasts.

Leaders have always been required to split their energies between working “on” the business for the future (doing things like reshaping and repositioning) and working “in” the business (that is, achieving the results required today).

These days, working “on” is an almost constant requirement that is not restricted to the annual planning cycle. That leaves leaders with less time to be working “in” the business, and the distinction between the forward-leaning leader and the operationally focused manager is growing.

Investors disproportionately reward forward-leaning leaders who instil the confidence that they will be able to overcome as-yet unknown challenges.

As leaders have to make decisions about the future without knowing what it holds, they have to be adaptive. Correcting course should not only be expected, but celebrated.

2. Form alliances

The World Economic Forum forecasts that six out ten jobs will be changed due to technology by 2030. The labour market has increased churn, languishing engagement, reduced trust and loyalty.

In this environment, “followership” is best understood as a choice. Even when they are contracted to a team or enterprise, people make daily choices of how much effort, engagement and loyalty they exhibit.

As such, leaders need to have the mindset of forming alliances, within their team and beyond it. Individualism is increasing, and workers usually want to be embraced for who they are, not how they appear to conform.

Leaders should strive to ensure a positive experience for each person. To do this they need to genuinely care for those around them and provide flexibility without compromising the goals of the organisation.

3. Aspire to make a positive impact

This is a purposeful aspiration, and is bigger than any one leader. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy all the time on everything. And minor complaints can be amplified by chatbots and fake news.

In this hostile context many people in positions of leadership are failing to lead. Some may be deliberately irresponsible or self-serving, but many failures of leadership are a consequence of being intimidated by criticism, to the point of paralysis. They may delay, ignore or be less than transparent on difficult decisions when they fear attack.

Successful leaders must have the courage to expose themselves to hostility. They may gain popularity with an attractive vision, but they will not be effective in delivering on it unless they are anchored, authentic and consistent.

A leader’s conviction to create an impact beyond themselves can motivate them, and will build resilience to criticism and setbacks.

4. Accelerate – learn faster

Why don’t we have enough leaders with the skills needed for modern organisations?

Firstly, organisations develop and promote people to look like the successes of the past. They use “rear-view mirror” elements like case-studies from the past, as well as mentors and role models who share historic experiences and routes to success.

Secondly, it’s common to focus on the “what” and “how” of leadership rather than on the “who”. Leaders today must find the conviction and courage to pursue their purpose and live by their values. As second world war British field marshal Viscount William Slim said: “Leadership is intensely personal … it’s just plain you.”

The time and energy of leaders are limited – so they have to learn faster.

If you’re a manager, you can be the solution to the current crisis of leadership. You need to take ownership of your own development and also accelerate the development of others around you.

Leadership is in a crisis but there is an antidote – you. You need to aspire, ally, adapt and accelerate. Läs mer…

Avoidable deaths have increased in the UK: the damning data political parties aren’t discussing

One question that British voters may have asked themselves during the 2024 election campaign is whether they are any better off now than they were in 2010 when the Conservative-led coalition came to power. A recent poll reveals that most Britons (73%) think they are not.

This is unsurprising given the evidence. Average incomes have grown more slowly than previously, and economic growth has lagged behind many comparable nations. Public services have worsened. Now, along with falling life expectancy and rising child deaths, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that another key measure of health has worsened: avoidable mortality.

The ONS data tracks trends at the level of local authorities in “preventable mortality”, which can be avoided through effective public health and “primary prevention” before a person becomes unwell, and in “treatable mortality”, avoidable through timely treatment once a person needs it.

When combined these two measures are termed “avoidable mortality” or “avoidable deaths”. All these measures consider only deaths in those aged under 75 and are age-standardised to enable fair comparisons, without being affected by the difference in age distributions, among local authorities and across time. While the data for England is reported by year, those for local authorities are averaged over three years to minimise the effect of short-term fluctuations, such as cold winters.

These latest statistics show sustained progress between 2000 and 2012, after which the rate of improvement slowed, before worsening from 2019 and during the pandemic. The most recent data show a slight recovery for England in 2022, but still worse than in 2019.

Avoidable, treatable and preventable deaths in England, 2001-2022

Avoidable, treatable and preventable mortality rates per 100,000 people.
Office for National Statistics

These findings are not, in themselves, surprising. Since the early 2010s, the UK has vied with the US for bottom place in the league table for gains in life expectancy.

ONS data published in January 2024 showed that life expectancy had returned to 2010-12 levels for females and slightly lower than over a decade ago for males. While inequalities have widened since 2010, it is shocking to see some parts of England have fared even worse than was suspected at a time when others were improving.

Those places that have done well show what was possible. Richmond upon Thames, a prosperous area in south-west London, saw a 21% reduction in avoidable deaths between 2009-11 and 2020-22, with a similar reduction in Oxford (20%).

In contrast, Castle Point, on the Essex coast, saw a 22% increase in avoidable deaths, and Walsall in the West Midlands a 19% increase.

Almost half of all local authorities experienced an increase in avoidable deaths, with increases in the rate. Over the same period (2009 to 2022), England overall experienced an increase in avoidable deaths of 1% and Wales of 1.5%.

The gap between local authorities with the highest and lowest avoidable death rates has widened, from 2.8 times in 2009-11 (with Hart in Hampshire at 162 per 100,000 people compared with Manchester at 460) to 3.4 times (with Hart again lowest, at 133 per 100,000 people and Blackpool now worst, at 455).

This widening gap reflected a combination of large improvements in places where avoidable death was already low (18% lower in Hart) and worsening where it was high (8% higher in Blackpool). The few exceptions where avoidable deaths fell from high levels did so modestly (7.9% lower in Manchester, 6.1% lower in Rhonda, 3.8% lower in Newcastle).

In general, areas with worse health in 2009-11 did less well over the next 11 years.

Ignored by all parties

These measures getting worse in an advanced industrialised country should be cause for significant alarm. Yet this information does not seem to have been discussed during the general election campaign – by any party.

The political parties’ manifestos contained shopping lists of numbers of NHS appointments that will be offered or scanners bought. Detailed analyses of the state of the nation’s health – and the reasons for its deterioration – were absent.

We might contrast, with concern, the media attention that greets the quarterly announcements of the UK’s economic growth figures with the very limited coverage of this data.

What the latest data reveals is particularly damning given the “levelling up” agenda set out by Boris Johnson in 2019, when he was campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative party. An agenda that, a recent review concluded, “has been glacial – and, on many metrics, the UK as a whole has gone into reverse”.

These are several similar reports highlighting poor progress and reversal of previously improving trends. For example, the terrible state of child health, with the Royal Society for Public Health noting how the new data show that avoidable child deaths have been rising since 2020. In England, it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, but 9.6 per 100,000 children in 2022.

During the election campaign of June 2024, none of the major parties set out a plan that would reverse these worrying trends. While reducing NHS waiting lists is important, it misses the bigger picture. Why are more people needing the NHS?

As well as the lack of adequate funding and workforce support for the NHS, the factors that make people unhealthy have worsened, with food poverty, education and housing particular concerns.

Stemming the flow without turning the tap off is a short-term solution for a long-term problem that requires a serious strategy – especially when the situation is getting worse. Läs mer…

Avoidable deaths have increased: the damning data political parties aren’t discussing

One question that British voters may have asked themselves during the 2024 election campaign is whether they are any better off now than they were in 2010 when the Conservative-led coalition came to power. A recent poll reveals that most Britons (73%) think they are not.

This is unsurprising given the evidence. Average incomes have grown more slowly than previously, and economic growth has lagged behind many comparable nations. Public services have worsened. Now, along with falling life expectancy and rising child deaths, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that another key measure of health has worsened: avoidable mortality.

The ONS data track trends at the level of local authorities in “preventable mortality”, which can be avoided through effective public health and “primary prevention” before a person becomes unwell, and in “treatable mortality”, avoidable through timely treatment once a person needs it.

When combined these two measures are termed “avoidable mortality” or “avoidable deaths”. All these measures consider only deaths in those aged under 75 and are age-standardised to enable fair comparisons, without being affected by the difference in age distributions, among local authorities and across time. While the data for England is reported by year, those for local authorities are averaged over three years to minimise the effect of short-term fluctuations, such as cold winters.

These latest statistics show sustained progress between 2000 and 2012, after which the rate of improvement slowed, before worsening from 2019 and during the pandemic. The most recent data show a slight recovery for England in 2022, but still worse than in 2019.

Avoidable, treatable and preventable deaths in England, 2001-2022

Avoidable, treatable and preventable mortality rates per 100,000 people.
Office for National Statistics

These findings are not, in themselves, surprising. Since the early 2010s, the UK has vied with the US for bottom place in the league table for gains in life expectancy.

ONS data published in January 2024 showed that life expectancy had returned to 2010-12 levels for females and slightly lower than over a decade ago for males. While inequalities have widened since 2010, it is shocking to see some parts of England have fared even worse than was suspected at a time when others were improving.

Those places that have done well show what was possible. Richmond upon Thames, a prosperous area in south-west London, saw a 21% reduction in avoidable deaths between 2009-11 and 2020-22, with a similar reduction in Oxford (20%).

In contrast, Castle Point, on the Essex coast, saw a 22% increase in avoidable deaths, and Walsall in the West Midlands a 19% increase.

Almost half of all local authorities experienced an increase in avoidable deaths, with increases in the rate. Over the same period (2009 to 2022), England overall experienced an increase in avoidable deaths of 1% and Wales of 1.5%.

The gap between local authorities with the highest and lowest avoidable death rates has widened, from 2.8 times in 2009-11 (with Hart in Hampshire at 162 per 100,000 people compared with Manchester at 460) to 3.4 times (with Hart again lowest, at 133 per 100,000 people and Blackpool now worst, at 455).

This widening gap reflected a combination of large improvements in places where avoidable death was already low (18% lower in Hart) and worsening where it was high (8% higher in Blackpool). The few exceptions where avoidable deaths fell from high levels did so modestly (7.9% lower in Manchester, 6.1% lower in Rhonda, 3.8% lower in Newcastle).

In general, areas with worse health in 2009-11 did less well over the next 11 years.

Ignored by all parties

These measures getting worse in an advanced industrialised country should be cause for significant alarm. Yet this information does not seem to have been discussed during the general election campaign – by any party.

The political parties’ manifestos contained shopping lists of numbers of NHS appointments that will be offered or scanners bought. Detailed analyses of the state of the nation’s health – and the reasons for its deterioration – were absent.

We might contrast, with concern, the media attention that greets the quarterly announcements of the UK’s economic growth figures with the very limited coverage of this data.

What the latest data reveals is particularly damning given the “levelling up” agenda set out by Boris Johnson in 2019, when he was campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative party. An agenda that, a recent review concluded, “has been glacial – and, on many metrics, the UK as a whole has gone into reverse”.

These are several similar reports highlighting poor progress and reversal of previously improving trends. For example, the terrible state of child health, with the Royal Society for Public Health noting how the new data show that avoidable child deaths have been rising since 2020. In England, it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, but 9.6 per 100,000 children in 2022.

During the election campaign of June 2024, none of the major parties set out a plan that would reverse these worrying trends. While reducing NHS waiting lists is important, it misses the bigger picture. Why are more people needing the NHS?

As well as the lack of adequate funding and workforce support for the NHS, the factors that make people unhealthy have worsened, with food poverty, education and housing particular concerns.

Stemming the flow without turning the tap off is a short-term solution for a long-term problem that requires a serious strategy – especially when the situation is getting worse. Läs mer…

Frank Cottrell-Boyce is the new children’s laureate – four reasons he’s the perfect choice

Children’s publishing is awash with celebrity authors. So when Frank Cottrell-Boyce was named BookTrust’s Children’s Laureate, some fellow writers may not have been wholly delighted. After all, Cottrell-Boyce is better known by many for his screenwriting work. He has written successful screenplays for a roster of films, including Millions (2004), The Railway Man (2013) and Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017).

He even had a gig at the Olympics, co-creating the opening and closing ceremonies and famously scripting the interplay between Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig’s Bond for the Queen’s entry to the opening ceremony.

But Frank Cottrell-Boyce is no celebrity author. When filmmaker Danny Boyle wrote the introduction for the re-release of Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s novel Millions, he began with a question: “How do you make the world a better place?” This question lies at the heart of Cottrell-Boyce’s writing for children. Here are four values of real children’s authors embodied by Cottrell-Boyce, that prove he is thoroughly deserving of the laureate.

1. Real children’s authors don’t exist in a vacuum

Good children’s authors understand how their own work fits into the traditions of children’s literature. Cottrell-Boyce is actively engaged with the children’s authors who have influenced him.

He often speaks, for example, about being inspired by his childhood love for Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. In 2011 he was commissioned by the Ian Fleming estate to extend the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series. He wrote the moving film tribute to A.A. Milne, Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), and the screenplay for the recent adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel Kensuke’s Kingdom (1999) in 2023.

He also holds a PhD in English Literature from Keble College, Oxford, showing his understanding of the long conversation of literary texts.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce on his appointment as children’s laureate.

2. Real children’s authors do school visits

A Telegraph article covering his appointment as children’s laureate relayed the story of a Cottrell-Boyce visit to Glasgow. During the visit, an intimidatingly large child objected to him stopping reading at an exciting point in the book.

Cottrell-Boyce was encouraging the children to read the book for themselves or to begin imagining what might happen next in the story, when the young man said, in a threatening tone: “Just read the book, wee man.”

School visits like these are a means of inspiring reading for pleasure, and real children’s authors are champions of reading. The work they do in school visits isn’t about selling a few books, but about inspiring and extending the reading culture of the school.

3. Real children’s authors understand the value of reading

It’s hard to overestimate how important childhood reading is for subsequent achievement and happiness. Cottrell-Boyce tells the story of meeting a refugee who knew of a better life because she’d read Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880).

But we don’t need to rely on anecdotes. There are a plethora of studies and investigations that indicate childhood reading makes us more empathetic, more resilient, gives us greater social mobility, helps us regulate our emotional responses – the list is endless.

BookTrust, the charity behind the appointment of the children’s laureate, publishes a frequently-updated roundup of such studies. Perhaps the most striking of the findings around childhood reading is that child readers “growing up in poverty are less likely to remain in poverty as adults”.

Real children’s authors understand this. Real children’s authors think about readers in poverty or in other bad situations, when they create their fictional worlds.

4. Real children’s authors are joyous

Amid this responsibility, real children’s authors still manage to write stories of chaotic fun. They remember and express the intense experience of encountering the world and yourself for the first time. They create characters so real that they can become friends for the friendless and guides for those who find life difficult to navigate.

Real children’s authors are hopeful. They know they have the chance to make the world a better place, every time they write.

Our new children’s laureate might be on the flash side, but he is without doubt a real children’s author.

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